"You still didn't have to come to San Francisco with me."
Carlos looks over at Adam, who seems to be looking at him with sympathy. He's pretty sure it's not just because of what just happened with his mom, although he really doesn't want to think about that right now.
"Chico. It's kind of a little late for that. We have an apartment. I have a job." Carlos ruffles Adam's hair, matted down strangely from the graduation cap. "Besides, I don't want to be anywhere you aren't."
"You say that now, but wait until you meet some strapping young man who sweeps you off your feet." Adam bats his hand away and makes an attempt at smoothing out his hair.
That hits a little too close, given the conversation they both seem to be avoiding. "I'd still want to be where you are."
Adam looks like he wants to say something snarky, but then his expression softens. "Dude. That's... nice."
"Yeah, yeah. Let's go find your parents."
Carlos pauses the game at the sound of the key in the door. The muffled chatter on the other side tells him that Adam isn't alone.
"...and he thought it was Lyme Disease?!" Carlos doesn't recognize that voice.
"I know, right?" Adam walks into the apartment followed by a guy that Carlos has never met before. They're both looking incredulous at whatever topic they're discussing.
Adam grins at him. "And here's Carlos. Carlos, this is Nick."
"Oh!" Carlos has heard about him before. "Hey, dude! Welcome to our humble abode."
"Thanks." He follows Adam's lead and kicks off his shoes by the door before looking around. "It's nice." Then he shakes his head and walks up to Carlos, hand outstretched. "Sorry. It's nice to meet you."
Carlos stands and shakes it. His grip is firm, solid, and warm. Confident, but friendly.
He'd been hoping to meet the guy that Adam had hit it off with almost immediately the first week of classes. At first he'd been worried he was being replaced as Adam's best friend, but Adam, being Adam, had immediately noticed his discomfort and been reassuring.
Still, he can't help but feel a tinge of jealousy that he does his best to suppress. "I've heard a lot about you."
Nick seems to blush at that. "Well, I hope it's all good things."
Adam stands behind him and smiles. "Only how you're the worst study partner ever."
"Yeah, like it's my fault both of us misremembered it as UGG."
"It's the one that looks like a university. Not the shoe."
Nick looks exasperated. "That would have been more useful before the pop quiz, Adam."
Adam shakes his head, still smiling. "Sorry. Um. We can go review in my room, if you're busy out here."
Carlos shakes his head, navigating to the menu and quitting the game. "Yeah, like there's any space in there with all of your clothes and books. No, it's more comfortable out here, and I should start dinner, anyway."
"You're sure?" Nick's looking at him, legitimately concerned. "Don't let us put you out like that."
"Dude. I'm sure. The only thing I need from you is to know if you're staying for dinner."
"Oh." Nick looks over at Adam and shrugs. "I expected I'd just order some delivery."
"Nope. No way. I'm making another attempt at casado tonight, now that I found actual plantains instead of trying those store-bought bananas again."
Nick stuffs his hands into his pockets. "If you're sure it's not too much trouble."
"Shush. Cooking for three isn't different than cooking for two." He also wants to be able to keep an eye on them, at least for a bit, and he wonders if that'll be good or bad for his jealousy.
Carlos stands and Adam sits on the couch next to where he just was. "Thanks, dude."
"Don't thank me yet, chico. This could still go disasterously wrong."
"Sounds like maybe you should be a bacteria and have better polymerase," Adam says, and Nick snickers as he sits on the couch next to Adam. Carlos isn't sure he likes jokes that he doesn't understand.
"Yeah, then maybe I could infect you and dump some nucleotide sequences encoding for better jokes." He hopes that makes some sense, and Nick laughs at it, so he supposes it works okay.
"Thanks for cooking, dude. Again."
"It's not a problem, chico. I enjoy it."
He makes his way to the kitchen and busies himself with the dishes, keeping an eye on Adam and Nick the whole time, but not sure he likes the ease by which they interact.
Why am I so jealous of this guy?
The sound of the key in the door distracts Carlos from his book, and he looks up. From the lack of chatter, he assumes Adam is alone, and his thought is confirmed when Adam walks through the door and shuts it behind him.
"Hey, chico. No Nick?"
"Oh. No, we're studying separately tonight."
"Break up with your best bud already?" He means it to be teasing, but it hits a little too close to home.
Adam laughs and shakes his head. "Nah. We'd just seen each other a lot, recently. I think it'll be good to get some study time apart too. We have the same weaknesses, which isn't great from a study standpoint."
"Shouldn't that be a good thing, so you can review them together?" He kicks himself for not seizing the opportunity to get Adam for himself, for a bit.
"You'd think it would be. But he prefers to focus on the stuff he already understands, which is a little pointless, in my mind. It's easier for me, at least, if I review that material by myself."
"Mmm." Carlos likes the sound of that, a little too much. "Well, I got some more plantains, so I was going to attempt patacones tonight. Not for dinner, but just to see."
Adam plops down next to him on the couch, throwing an arm over his shoulders and pulling him close to him. "Not going out, tonight?"
"Nah. The club that Joey and I were looking at has a weird DJ, tonight."
"Thanks, dude. You always take such good care of me."
"Yeah, yeah. Someone has to."
Adam just looks at him, affectionately, and shakes his head, but doesn't say anything to that.
"Have I been unfair to you, dude?"
Carlos looks up from his plate, confused. Adam looks concerned. "What? No. Why?"
"It occurred to me that I've been so buried in books lately and haven't been making time for you. And you're cooking for me, and cleaning the apartment, and..." Adam shrugs.
Carlos doesn't want to say it's not the books that have been bothering him. "And this is different from your usual academically-minded self how? At least I don't have to drag you kicking and screaming into a social life, anymore."
"Is that how you'd characterize it? Kicking and screaming?"
He grins. "Stuttering and apologizing, then."
Adam laughs, and he knows he's also remembering the first awkward first interactions they'd had, and how he'd had to drag Adam to coffee to get him to relax. "At least I don't have to correct you on biology, now."
"I am never touching a textbook again."
Adam laughs again, then grows serious. "But really, dude. You moved here for me. I don't think I've been fair to you, lately."
"That's being generous. I didn't move here for you, chico. There was a job here, and there's some good beaches here."
"Dude. You complained about the quality of the beaches for weeks when we moved. I'm sure you would've rather ended up in LA or Florida or something."
"I'd still never want to be somewhere you're not." He realizes, after it's out, that that doesn't exactly help his cause. Adam bites his lip, looking significantly less happy now, and he feels a need to fix it. "Dude. It's really fine. It's important that you do well. I understand."
"We should do something. Together, I mean."
"We could play Smash." It's been a surprisingly long time since they'd done that.
"No, I mean... something out of the ordinary. We could go surf or something."
"You don't surf," Carlos replies, automatically, although he thinks he wouldn't mind getting Adam into a wetsuit.
"I wouldn't mind trying."
Carlos pats his hand. "I appreciate it, chico, but it's fine. Really. Go kick med school's ass like I know you can."
Adam smiles at him, but doesn't seem convinced. "Dude..."
"Shush. Now eat your beans before they get cold."
That does it, and Adam grins. "Yes, mother."
"Do you have plans today?"
Carlos, lying in his bed, looks up from his book at Adam, standing in the doorway of his room. "No?"
"Great. Get dressed."
"Chico. What..." Carlos really likes the idea of doing something with Adam, but he's still caught by surprise at the suggestion.
"It's a surprise. Get dressed." Adam grins at Carlos.
He shakes his head. "What about studying?"
"What about us? I miss hanging out with you. Get dressed."
He shakes his head again, but he's grinning now. "Who would have thought you'd be the one to drag me out somewhere."
"Yeah. Don't get used to it, dude." Adam's grin suddenly drops. "I mean... no. The fact that this is unusual is a problem."
"Dude. Stop that. You don't have to always apologize for actually taking school seriously."
"Okay." Adam still looks unsure.
"Now shut the door so I can change, unless you want a striptease."
Adam grins at that, but shuts the door behind him.
The surprise ends up being an escape room, and between Adam's attention to detail and Carlos' memory, they manage to escape with plenty of time to spare.
They sit together along the Embarcadero afterward with ice cream cones, staring out over the bay.
"I've missed this, dude," Adam says before taking another lick of his ice cream.
Carlos resists the urge to tell him it's nobody's fault but his own. "Yeah. We haven't really hung out like this since summer."
"I'm sorry I haven't been making time for you."
"You haven't been making time for anything, chico."
Except Nick, he thinks, but knowing it's unfair. They spend time together for classes, not socially.
"Maybe that's part of the problem." Adam stares out over the water, contemplative.
"Do you need me to drag you out more, chico? In undergrad I knew how much I could get away with, but med school is serious, and I don't want to hurt your... standings, or chance, or whatever."
"Honestly, I wouldn't mind if you did. But don't take that as another responsibility or obligation, dude. It's not your job to keep track of my life."
Still, he'll take it. "You can't take it back now. I'm going to drag you kicking and screaming into a social life."
Adam laughs. "We've been over this, dude."
"Thanks for today," he says instead.
Adam rests a hand on his back and leaves it there as they finish their ice cream.
"Thanks again, dude." Adam says into the hallway before shutting the door behind Nick and turning back to Carlos. "So... oh. You already cleaned up the dishes."
"They're just in the dishwasher. It wasn't a big deal."
"You really didn't have to cook for us tonight, dude. You were going to go out."
Carlos feels a bit of regret at missing the special DJ tonight, but he tells himself Adam was more important. "And you were going to forget to eat, again. Don't think I've forgotten what happened the last time you two got so into discussing anatomy lab."
"We could've ordered something."
"But you wouldn't have." It's not intended to be accusatory, but Adam nods anyway.
"Well, then, thanks. For taking care of us." Adam stretches. "Heading out, now?"
"Probably not. It's more than fashionably late at this point, and I don't really want to deal with a drunken Aditya again. He really can't hold his liquor." That part, at least, he doesn't regret.
"Want to watch a movie or something?"
Carlos is surprised by the suggestion. "Don't you have more reading you want to do or something?"
"I want to watch a movie with you, dude. If that's okay with you."
Carlos can feel himself smile. "Yeah. There's this film called Zombieland that Netflix recommended that I've been meaning to watch."
"I thought you didn't like horror films."
"Apparently it's more a comedy or something? It wouldn't recommend it if it didn't think I'd like it, right?"
"I don't know. You'll have to ask Chris how all of that algorithmy stuff works. But sure, let's do it."
"Thank you for cooking for me again, Carlos." Nick sets down his fork, looking a lot more satisfied than Carlos would have expected for just a simple pasta dish.
"Thanks for polishing your plate, dude. It makes it easier to load in the dishwasher."
Adam laughs, and puts a hand on his shoulder. "This guy is the best. I don't know what I'm going to do when he finds someone and eventually moves out."
Carlos likes the implication that they'll be living together until a theoretical someone enters his life. "You're going to have to learn to cook, chico."
"Or just order in every meal."
Nick suddenly looks confused, his eyes flitting between the two of them. "Wait. You mean you two aren't... together?"
Carlos stares at Adam, not sure how to respond to that. Adam seems a bit taken aback before he bursts out in laughter, and Carlos takes that as a good sign.
"You know, I should have expected that. No. We're not together. We've never even dated."
"Oh my god. I'm so sorry! I just... assumed." Nick's turning bright red, now.
Adam throws an arm over Carlos' shoulder, and Carlos tries not to think about how nice it feels. "He's my best friend, since my freshman year of college. I guess we're fairly inseparable, so I totally understand why you'd think that."
"It's just... the way you talk about him," Nick tries, and Carlos likes the warmth in his chest from the statement. Nick buries his face in his hands. "Sorry. That was really... rude of me. To assume."
"It's fine, dude. Don't worry about it." Adam seems like he isn't sure if he should reach out and touch Nick, to be reassuring.
"This guy's straight, anyway." Carlos ruffles Adam's hair, who removes his arm and bats his hand away.
And I'm gay, he doesn't say, because it's not really relevant at the moment, anyway.
"Right. I'm sorry."
"Dude, stop apologizing." Adam does reach out this time, patting Nick's shoulder.
Nick shakes his head, suddenly looking nervous again. "Um. Does it bother you that I'm gay?"
Carlos is suddenly infinitely more interested in this conversation, and he doesn't like the way his breath catches in his throat.
And I'm gay, he thinks again, and it's suddenly very relevant.
Adam shakes his head, looking equal parts sympathetic and concerned, now, and Carlos realizes Nick must not have told him that, before. "Dude. Why would that bother me?"
"Sorry. Just... I don't know. I was assuming you two were a couple, and just... sorry."
Carlos feels the need to comfort him too, and pats his shoulder. That seems safe enough. "Dude. Adam's right. Stop apologizing. It's really fine."
Nick buries his face in his hands again. "Maybe I should just go."
"You promised me some Smash after dinner." It comes out a bit more accusatory than he'd intended, and he isn't sure why he isn't seizing on the opportunity to have some alone time with Adam.
"God, I'm so embarrassed."
"Dude. Seriously. It's fine." Adam sounds like he isn't sure what else he can say to help.
"Right. Sorry. I mean... right."
"Are you seeing anyone?" Carlos' curiosity gets the better of him, even though he thinks it's probably a rude question.
Nick seems almost relieved to be able to change the subject. "No. My boyfriend and I broke up a bit before I graduated. It was mutual, though... we just were going down different paths in life, and we both thought we'd be better off as friends."
"That's always good." He cringes at the response. His singular breakup was fairly ugly, so he can't exactly relate to the sentiment.
"Yeah. It's... good. And, um... I feel like med school is so busy now that I don't really have time to date."
"Oh." Carlos isn't sure why he's suddenly disappointed at that. "Adam said the same thing to me."
Adam seems to seize on the opportunity, and grins. "Yeah, because you were teasing about me and Nick shacking up together and having little MCAT study guide babies, dude. Which didn't even make sense, by the way, for so many different reasons."
Nick laughs at that, and the mood seems to shift. "Biologically speaking, how would that even work? Our cell membranes can't synthesize cellulose."
"Lucky you, then. Most people have to work out to stay thin."
Nick looks confused for a second. "Wait, are you thinking of cellulite?"
Adam ruffles Carlos' hair. "This guy has an amazing memory, but sometimes gets things a little wrong. Did I ever tell you how we met?"
Nick's smiling again. "You didn't."
Adam launches into the story of their first few meetings, but despite his hand running through Carlos' hair and rubbing his scalp, suddenly all he can think about is Nick.
Adam shuts the door behind Nick, still laughing. Carlos feels strangely more at ease, despite not getting to Smash like they'd intended, and he can't explain why.
"Was that okay?" Adam's suddenly serious, and looking at him with concern, and he isn't sure why.
"I realized I was being more affectionate than usual. It seemed like it might have bothered you."
"Dude. That never bothers me." He checks anyway, making sure his feelings for Adam are still buried where they should be.
Adam smiles. "Okay. I just never want to make you uncomfortable or anything."
"Chico, you never make me uncomfortable. I was just... amused."
Adam smiles. "Yeah, well. I'm surprised this misconception hasn't come up more often."
"Maybe a lot of people are assuming." He shrugs as Adam sits down on the couch next to him. "Does that... bother you?"
"Dude, why would it bother me?"
"I don't know. Maybe there's some girl you like but she's keeping her distance because she thinks you're taken. And gay."
Adam laughs and throws an arm over his shoulders. "Dude. I really don't have time to date right now. And any theoretical girl I do date is just going to have to just deal with the fact that I love you, and that you're an important part of my life."
Carlos blushes. "I love you too, chico."
Adam ruffles his hair again, and it's nicer than it has any business being. "So, um. It's a shame Nick doesn't have time to date, either."
"What?!" Carlos looks over at him, finding him staring off into space, looking surprisingly serious. "What do you mean by that, dude?"
Adam shrugs. "Nothing."
"You can't make a statement like that and then say it's nothing."
"Okay, just..." Adam takes in a surprisingly shaky breath. "This is going to sound like I'm really full of myself, but I still remember that conversation we had when, um... the conversation we had about us."
"Which one?" He thinks he knows the one, but needs to hear it.
"Where you told me you had a crush on me."
He isn't sure he likes how this conversation is digging up feelings that he'd long ago buried and tried to suppress. "Chico. I..."
"Dude. It's really fine. I promise. You're respectful, and amazing, and it really doesn't bother me at all." Adam had told him that then, but hearing it again helps. "And I'm... sorry that I can't reciprocate."
"That's definitely not something you should apologize for. Besides, you said it before, and it's still true. We'd kind of be a disaster if we dated." He's not sure he believes it, given how nice their domestic life is now, but he hangs on to it anyway to keep from going down a road he'd rather not.
"Okay. But just... I don't know what it was about me, but I like to think it's how well we get along, and part of that is how well we complement each other. I'm too serious a lot of the time, and you can often be a little too... carefree."
"Ouch." Adam looks at him, concerned, but relaxes at the grin on his face.
"Sorry. I just mean that... Nick and I are very similar, and you've told me how you aren't really interested in dating Joey, or Robert, or Aditya. So I just thought that, maybe..." He sighs. "Sorry. This is just my brain going off in inappropriate directions."
"I was... jealous, of him. And I shouldn't be, because I have friends that I spend a lot of time with, too. Like Joey, or Robert, or Aditya." He doesn't mean to admit it, but it seems like a thing he should get out.
But I don't normally bring them home, he thinks, trying to remember the last time he'd gone somewhere with any of his other friends that wasn't a bar or a club.
Adam looks concerned again. "Dude."
"It wasn't fair of me. I don't have a monopoly on you, or your time. And I shouldn't. And I'm really happy that you made a friend in the program that you can study with and do things with."
"No, I... I understand. We've been spending a lot of time together."
"It doesn't matter what we were doing. We were still spending a lot of time together."
Carlos turns and puts his hands on Adam's shoulders. "Dude. I mean it. It was stupid, and it's not your problem. I'm really, truly happy that you have him. You shouldn't feel guilty about anything." And he realizes he really does mean it.
"Okay." Adam still doesn't quite look like he believes it. "But if you need me to do anything differently..."
"No. What I need is for you to kick med school's ass so you can get into UCSF for your residency so we don't have to move again."
He expects Adam to laugh at that, or balk at the implication that he's thought about their lives beyond just the next few years, but instead he looks at him with affection. "Come here, dude."
Then he's pulling him into a hug and rubbing his back, and Carlos lets a tear fall.
"I haven't played this in a long time," Nick says, taking the controller that Carlos holds out. They'd finally gotten to Smash, after a few failed attempts after dinners that had turned into conversation instead of gaming.
"Does that mean I should give myself a handicap?" Carlos navigates to the settings screen, ready to do so.
Nick shakes his head. "No. I was never really any good at it, anyway. Most of the fun was just the chaos of it all."
Carlos picks Pikachu, as usual, and Adam chooses the Ice Climbers, as Nick studies the screen.
"Pick carefully, dude. You can never change your selection again."
Adam hits his arm. "Don't listen to him. You can change whenever you want."
Nick settles on Captain Falcon and nods. "If I'm going to commit for life, it might as well be to a guy who looks like that."
Adam laughs, and Carlos feels brave. "My, uh... ex-boyfriend always played Captain Falcon."
He glances over at Adam, hoping he won't call him out on the blatant lie. Adam just nods, understanding what he's trying to do. "That guy was an asshole."
Carlos snorts. That much, at least, was true. After the novelty of the really great sex had worn off, they'd been left without much in common and a bunch of arguing about how Carlos was too hung on up Adam.
It'd been enough to put him off from dating again for the rest of his undergrad.
"Ah," Nick says, but Carlos doesn't miss the way his eyes flick over at him, and he hopes it's significant.
"Stock battle, no items," he says instead. "That cool?"
"I think I remember what that means. Um. Yeah... that's... can we add Pokeballs in, though? I always thought those were fun. Part of the, um... chaos."
"You and Adam really are alike." Carlos shakes his head, but navigates into the menu and toggles the Pokeballs, turning the item rate to Very High for good measure.
"You don't have to if, uh... you don't have to on my behalf."
"Shush. He's going to turn them back off again, and you'll have ruined it for both of us." Adam hits Carlos' arm again.
Nick just nods, staring forward at the screen.
Adam shuts the door behind Nick and turns to Carlos, smiling. "I think he likes you, dude."
Adam shrugs and sits back on the couch. Carlos hesitates before joining him. "He was flustered."
"How do you know that?" Carlos doesn't want to think about how this conversation is making him feel.
"We spend a lot of time together. He was flustered." Adam smiles at him.
"We were making him play Smash for the first time in however many years. It was just that." He really doesn't want to think about it.
"Why does this matter to you, anyway?"
Adam shakes his head. "I'm not saying it does. I'm just saying that, if you're interested, I think you have a chance."
He pats Carlos' shoulder and stands and heads into his room. Carlos just sits there, staring at the menu screen.
The key rattles in the lock and, from the chatter in the hallway, he assumes Adam has Nick with him.
His heart, for some reason, sticks in his throat at the thought. He hadn't seen Nick since that evening, a couple weeks ago, and as the days went by, he'd started to worry that he'd said or done something wrong.
Adam had reassured him, of course, that it was just the additional evening labs making both of them tired, and he wasn't sure he'd have believed it if he hadn't seen firsthand how exhausted Adam was when he came home, late in the evenings.
The door opens and Adam walks through, followed by Nick carrying... flowers.
"Hey," Carlos tries, standing from the couch but forcing his gaze away from them. He doesn't want to think about what that means.
Adam grins. "Hey, dude. Got room for one more for dinner?"
"I like that you assume I'm making dinner tonight, chico."
Adam looks concerned until he sees the grin on Carlos' face. "Ah. Right. Chez Carlos requires advance reservations of at least a month."
"I think I can make an exception for my best friend and his date."
Adam laughs, and Carlos watches as Nick kicks off his shoes, looking anywhere but him. "Um. I wanted to thank you for always cooking for us... for me. So I just..." Nick shrugs and holds out the bouquet, walking toward the couch.
"Oh." Carlos takes it, his heart pounding in his chest.
Ask him, he thinks. It would be so easy.
"I should get these in water," he says instead, and immediately kicks himself. "But thank you. No one's gotten me flowers before."
"I'm surprised. You deserve them," Nick says, before turning away and blushing.
He nods instead, heading into the kitchen and trying to find an appropriate container, glancing out of the corner of his eye at Nick, who sits awkwardly on the couch.
"So how are your labs going?" He wants to change the subject as quickly as possible.
"Pathology is really interesting. I think I like it more than anatomy." It seems to work, as Nick sounds a bit more comfortable with this topic.
"What, you don't like cutting up dead bodies?" Carlos knows there's more to it than that, but he's not familiar enough with the specifics to really get into it.
"No, I do. I just find the smaller interactions more interesting. Like we more or less know how bodies work and how the pieces interact, but there's so much we don't understand about microbes, and disease."
"And that's where we differ, dude. I don't want to be bent over a microsope or device all day. I want to be helping people." Adam sits down next to Nick on the couch.
"Pathologists help people, too! You fancy surgeons wouldn't know how to help them without pathology."
"Right. Because I need you to tell me that this guy's leg is broken."
"No, but you do need me to tell you what kind of infection he's got in that leg wound where the bone is exposed." He pauses. "Also, I like that you assume I'm going to be a pathologist."
"I like that you assume I'm going to be a surgeon."
Carlos settles on a tall glass that he hopes will be big enough and fills it with water, removing the rubber band around the flowers and searching for some scissors to trim the stems like he'd always been told to do.
"Sorry, are we grossing you out?" He glances over, and Nick's looking at him with concern.
Carlos grins and shakes his head, not wanting to think about how much he likes that look. "I've lived with Adam for three years, and known him far longer. I've heard far worse. Ask him to talk to you about the Black Death sometime."
Nick doesn't take the bait, like he expects. "But that doesn't mean we're not still making you uncomfortable."
He finds the scissors and focuses on the flowers, instead. "You're not, dude. Really. I don't really like horror films because you have to see that stuff, but talking about it doesn't bother me."
"Remember when you broke your arm, dude?" He can tell Adam is grinning at him, even without looking.
"Was there bone?" Nick sounds far more interested in this conversation than he'd like.
"Fractured, chico." He's irrationally annoyed at this line of conversation.
"Oh. That doesn't sound as bad, then."
"He moped for the rest of the semester because he couldn't go swimming thanks to the cast. And then cried like a baby when they were going to remove it because he was worried they'd cut him."
"Okay, that's enough, chico!" It comes out harsher than he expects, and he isn't sure why this teasing bothers him so much.
Maybe it's the company.
"Right. Sorry, dude. I didn't mean to... sorry." Adam truly sounds apologetic, but he still doesn't want to look over at them.
They're quiet for a bit, and he stuffs the flowers into the cup, finding that they just fit, although they look a little cramped. He puts the cup on the counter near the fridge.
"Anything I can do to help? With... dinner, I mean." Nick seems nervous again.
Carlos thinks for a bit, trying to decide how he feels about Nick in the kitchen with him, and not just because he hasn't tried to cook with anyone since a few disasterous attempts in undergrad.
"You can help cut some vegetables, if you'd like." He's not sure why he's not just saying 'no'. "I was just going to bake some chicken and make a salad."
Nick stands and stuffs his hands in his pockets. "Yeah. I could... do that."
He kicks himself that night, lying in bed, wondering why he was so afraid to make a move. The man had practically all but asked him out, but he had been too scared to do anything about it.
Adam hadn't pressed, of course, even after the tension had turned into comfortable conversation over food, and Nick had left the two of them alone afterward.
He climbs out of bed and walks over to the door to Adam's room. It's fortunately not shut, and Adam seems to be sitting up in bed, reading a book by the light of his bedside lamp.
"Can we talk?"
Adam puts the book down and smiles at him. He tries not to stare at Adam's bare chest. No matter how much he was used to the fact that Adam slept practically naked by now, he still finds it unfairly evocative.
"Of course." Adam scoots over a bit on his mattress and pats the bit of the bed next to him. They haven't done this before, and he tries not to think about their proximity as he sits.
"I froze." It's as good a place to start as any.
"So you like him." It's not a question.
He can feel Adam's hand on his, and he looks over at him. Adam's looking at him with such sympathy. "Why?"
"I don't know, dude. It shouldn't be hard. I just... don't want to screw something up, for you."
"Dude. Is that what it is? You're worried you'll ruin my friendship with him or something? Or your friendship with me?" Adam's voice is more reassuring than it should be.
"I don't know. Maybe." Now that Adam's said it, he thinks it's actually a pretty good description for his feelings, at the moment.
"Dude. You know I'd always pick you, right?"
"And that makes it worse!" He looks away from Adam, staring at one of Adam's t-shirts on the floor, instead.
Adam's quiet for a bit, thinking before he speaks. "Look, dude. I'm flattered that I'm that important to you, but you should never let me stand in the way of something that'll make you happy."
"How do you know he'll make me happy?"
"Because you've never been this way before, about anyone. You don't second-guess yourself, dude. And you are, now. You did, today."
"So I know how much this would mean, to you. How serious it would be. And I'm telling you that he knows it too." Adam's voice is soft, but Carlos still doesn't dare look at him.
"I'm still scared." He hates how his voice shakes.
Adam's hand squeezes his. "Putting yourself out there is scary."
"But I've done that before."
"Yeah, and look what happened. I don't blame you for being scared to do it again, dude."
He's quiet for a bit, focusing on his breathing. "I never told you why we broke up."
"You don't have to," Adam says, and he wishes Adam wasn't so understanding, sometimes.
"No. I... I do." He pulls his hand away. "We weren't anything alike, but that wasn't... the issue. He hated how much time I spent with you. He started to resent you. And I hated him for it."
Adam shifts and his hand finds Carlos' shoulder. "Dude..."
Carlos turns back toward him, and doesn't even realize he's crying until he realizes Adam looks blurry, and he wipes his eyes.
"Adam. You're the most important thing to me. I don't want to screw us up. And I don't want to screw your friendships up."
"You won't." It's meant to be reassuring, but it's just upsetting, instead.
"How do you know that?!" He tears his gaze away again.
"I don't think there's anything you could do to screw you and me up, dude." That hits harder than it should and he holds back a sob. "And what, you don't date someone you like just of because that 'what if' of if you break up?"
"Something like that."
"Okay, this is really selfish of me, but I... I kind of want to know, and like, and approve of the people you date, dude. Especially after last time. I know you're under no obligation for any of that, of course, but you're really important to me too, and I want to make sure whoever it is... sees you the same way, I guess."
Adam's hand squeezes his shoulder. "Don't do anything you don't want to do, dude. And if that means not dating Nick, then don't date him. But for what it's worth, I approve of him, for you."
He doesn't say anything else, but he's pretty sure he doesn't have to, because Adam shifts again, and wraps him up in a hug from behind, and he knows Adam knows how much that -- all of that -- means to him.
Carlos manages to drag Adam away from his books and out of the apartment, finally, for a walk along the Embarcadero, up to where a bunch of vendors with colorful vegetables and delicious-smelling foods are set up in front of the Ferry Building.
"I'd forgotten this was here," Adam says, looking over everything.
"Only a few days a week."
"Is this where you always disappear off to on Saturday mornings?" Adam's voice isn't filled with any judgement, but Carlos still feels a little guilty about it.
"Not every week, but many of them, yeah. I find it inspiring to walk around and think about what I could make with the stuff. And then don't because it's too expensive and I'm worried I'd ruin it."
Adam walks up to a stand displaying mushrooms and potatoes. "Can I get you something, dude?"
"You don't have to do that, chico."
"But I want to. You've been wanting to do more with mushrooms, right?"
"I always see those and think pizza, but it feels like a waste of nice mushrooms." He isn't sure how well fancy mushrooms would work on pizza anyway, but he already has a goat cheese in mind to pair with them.
Adam shakes his head and picks up a container of mushrooms, staring at Carlos as if daring him to object.
"I... fine. If you want mushroom pizza, I'll make you mushroom pizza. I've been meaning to start experimenting with dough, anyway."
Adam grins and pays for the mushrooms. "That's the spirit."
Adam hands him the bag. "Thanks for always cooking, dude."
They walk through the stands together before passing by some outdoor tables for one of the Ferry Building restaurants. Carlos spots a familiar face.
"Um." He doesn't like how his breath catches at the sight.
Nick's sitting a table with a drink and another guy, laughing about something, when their eyes meet. Nick's face immediately falls, as if suddenly guilty about something.
"Hey, dude," he tries, not sure why he's feeling like he's intruding on something not meant for him, when they're sitting next to a public sidewalk.
"I, uh... didn't expect to see you two here." Nick's nervous, and his companion turns around to face Adam and Carlos. "Sorry. Hi. Uh... That's Carlos, and Adam. Adam and I are in school together. This is, uh... this is Kyle."
Carlos tries to force a smile onto his face. "It's nice to meet you, Kyle. Another med school comrade?"
"No. We're on a date." Kyle says it so matter-of-factly that it takes a second to sink in, and Carlos is sure his face is suddenly red.
"Oh. Right. I'm..."
Sorry to interrupt, he thinks.
"I thought you didn't have time to date," he says instead, and immediately hates himself for it.
Kyle looks a little confused, and Nick's turning red, gripping his glass so tightly his knuckles turn white as he stares at the table.
"I had some time this weekend and, uh... thought it would be... nice. To put myself out there."
Kyle turns back to him, still looking confused. "Sorry, am I missing something here?"
"No. I'm sorry. I was just..." Carlos struggles for a way to make the situation right, again.
Adam slaps a hand on his shoulder. "He's just being supportive of me. Nick and I recently broke up, and I wasn't taking it well, so he just... he's just protective of me."
That shouldn't work, but it does, and Kyle nods with sympathy, reaching for Nick's hand across the table, and Carlos has to turn away at it. He doesn't dare look at Adam's face.
"Sorry. We should go. Sorry to interrupt." Carlos grabs Adam's hand, not even caring about appearances anymore, dragging him away from the table. It isn't until they're another three piers down that he feels like he can breathe again.
"Sorry that was a bit awkward," Adam says when they stop. "I couldn't come up with something better so quickly." Carlos realizes he's still holding Adam's hand, and jerks his own hand away. He isn't sure why Adam is apologizing for any of this.
"No. I... I freaked. Why did I freak? I've never done that before. It's none of my business. God, why did I say that? Chico, what..."
Adam takes him by the shoulders and turns him until he's looking at him. "Breathe, dude. Slowly."
He does, focusing on Adam's eyes and look of concern, measuring his breaths until he can feel the panic start to subside.
"That was... so shitty of me."
"I don't think so. You were just surprised, dude." He must seem calmer now, because Adam's hands drop back to his sides.
"That was still shitty. I need to apologize to him."
"No. You don't." He looks over Adam's shoulder to see Nick walking toward them, looking a little sheepish, but also terrified.
"Dude. God. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm sorry if I... ruined your... date."
Nick shakes his head, stopping next to the two of them. "No, it was pretty much over, anyway. There was no spark, you know?"
He's about to say he doesn't know, when Nick's gaze shifts, and their eyes meet, and there's something inside his chest, and... oh.
That's what he means.
He doesn't think this time, moving in on instinct. His hands find Nick's waist, and head, and then he's kissing him. He's kissing him and Nick is kissing him back as his arms wrap around Carlos' back.
The tightness is in chest is gone, and he breaks, eyes half-lidded, momentarily speechless and happy before realization dawns on him.
"Oh god. Dude. I'm sorry! I didn't mean to just... force myself on you... and..."
"It's okay. More than okay. I was afraid I was going to do that, myself," Nick says, smiling at him gently, but still looking nervous. "I almost did, a few nights ago. When I was over."
"I thought you weren't interested."
Carlos can't help but laugh at that. "No. Just... scared."
"Still scared?" Nick's face is filled with hope, now.
"No." He doesn't even need time to consider his answer.
The nervousness falls from Nick's face, and his smile gets somehow bigger. "Can I kiss you again?"
He does, and he knows Adam is watching them, and smiling with them, and suddenly everything is right with the world.
Nick wears his heart on his sleeve, as Carlos has found out in so many different ways over the past few years, but the size of the grin on his face as he walks up to him is still unusual, and new.
"Good news, I take it." The knot in his stomach that he realizes had been there ever since the start of the year, knowing that residency matching would be happening in just a few months, finally starts to dissipate.
Carlos kisses him as he falls into his arms. "See? You were worried for nothing."
Adam walks up behind Nick and nods, and Carlos would be nervous all over again if it wasn't for the way that Adam, too, is smiling.
"Chico?" He doesn't dare ask directly.
Adam's smile grows bigger, and it's reassuring. "Same."
"Oh god." He finally lets the remaining stress of worrying fall, that he would have to choose between his best friend and his boyfriend in some inconceivable and impossible decision.
Adam grins. "I know how much you two weren't looking forward to long distance."
"Bold of you to assume I'd choose you, chico." He punches Adam's arm, but when he thinks about it, he probably would have, and he feels more than a little guilty about that.
"Congratulations!" Adam's mother wraps him up in a hug.
"Thanks, mom. I'm glad I don't have to move. I wasn't looking forward to packing up all of my books, again."
"What is this again, chico? You've like... quadrupled your book count since we moved here."
Nick releases him, finally, as his parents come up to congratulate him, falling instead into his mother's arms.
"Congratulations, sweetheart. We're so proud of you." She kisses Nick's cheek as his dad pats his shoulder.
"Thanks, mom. I couldn't have done it without Carlos."
"You mean you couldn't have done it without Adam." Carlos is pretty sure he doesn't deserve nearly that much credit.
Nick shakes his head. "Without both of you then, babe."
"And I couldn't have done it without both of you." Adam slaps a hand on each of their backs.
"And now it's time to celebrate!" Carlos is surprised at the outburst from Nick's father, always thinking of him as quiet and stoic. But from the way he's beaming at his son at the moment, he supposes it's not out of place.
"You guys still didn't have to come out here for this." Nick blushes, as if feeling guilty about it.
"We wouldn't have missed this for the world, sweetheart." His mom pulls him into another hug, but Nick looks nervous, for some reason.
"Right. I, um..."
He pulls away from his mother, and looks at Carlos, and for some reason, Carlos' breath hitches.
"I wasn't going to do this here, but, um..." Before Carlos knows what's happening, Nick's down on one knee, a ring box pulled out of... somewhere, and he's looking up at him with such nervousness and love. "I'll give you the full speech later, but since everyone's eager to celebrate, I'll keep it short for now. Marry me?"
Carlos can hear Nick's mother gasp next to them. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He reaches down instead, taking Nick's arms and pulling him to his feet, and kissing him, deeply this time, not even caring about the five sets of eyes watching the two of them.
He breaks, and tries in vain to blink away the tears. "Yes," he finally manages to croak out. "As if there was ever a question."
Nick laughs and kisses him again.
"That was really nice, baby."
Nick smiles and snuggles into the post-coital spot at his side. "Nicer than usual?"
"Everything's nicer than usual, today. For a lot of reasons."
Nick kisses his shoulder. "I'm sorry we were stressing you out so much."
Carlos rubs circles into his back. "It's not your fault, dude. I know you two were really worried, too."
"But not in the same way that you were. I wish we could've done something to make it better."
Carlos can feel the metal of the ring on his finger against his leg, and he holds his hand up. "You did."
Nick laughs and shifts more on top of him, kissing him, and Carlos wraps both arms around him.
"I was actually going to propose after dinner, when it was just the two of us. So I guess that's actually after sex."
"Bold of you to assume we'd be spending the night together. Or that I would put out for you."
Nick shakes his head, but they both know it's a joke. "I just got a little too excited and couldn't wait."
"Afterward would have been safer, in case I said no?"
Nick grins. "Yeah, like there was any doubt you would accept. I just didn't want to make a big deal of it."
"Mmm." Carlos kisses him "How long have you been been planning this?"
Nick looks away, sheepishly. "Oh. Um. I got the ring before Christmas. I was thinking it would have been nice to propose when you were over for the holidays."
Carlos is surprised by that. "What?! But it's March."
"Yeah, well... I decided it wasn't a great idea?"
Carlos isn't sure he understands, and he angles Nick's face so he can see it. Nick doesn't seem upset, but he also doesn't seem to realize Carlos doesn't understand. "Sorry, you're going to have to explain that one."
"Oh. Um. I knew residency matches were coming up. I mean, we'd talked about it. But if Adam and I had gotten into different schools, I didn't want to make the decision even harder for you, if we were engaged."
He's still not sure he understands. "Dude. It would have tilted any decision in your favor, if we were engaged. Why didn't you?"
Nick just smiles and moves his face to Carlos' neck, and gently bites at the skin there. "Exactly."
"Dude. What..." He's trying his best not to be distracted.
"I think you would have chosen him, otherwise."
There's no hint of judgement, or bitterness, and Carlos almost wishes there was. "Dude..."
Nick moves, looking at him again. "No. I don't mean that in a bad way. But I think you would have chosen to go with him. And I didn't feel it was fair to tip the scales in my favor like that."
"Dude." Carlos isn't sure he has the words for how much love that makes him feel. "You..."
"I know Adam's important to you, babe. I know I could never compete with him, in many ways, and strangely, that's one of the things I love the most about you. I don't ever want you to have to choose between us."
"But..." Carlos shakes his head. "But I would have had to, in this case." He stops, a thought from dinner coming back to mind. "Also didn't you and Adam do the... couples match thing?"
"We did, but I don't think that guarantees that you match together. I just wanted to be absolutely sure you wouldn't have to choose before I proposed. And then you didn't have to, so I proposed."
Carlos stares at him for a second before finding his head and kissing him again, trying to pour all of the love and passion and appreciation he can into the kiss.
Nick breaks and laughs. "What did I do to deserve that?"
"Everything. Always, just... everything. I love you. So... so much." He doesn't think he has the words to express how full his heart is right now.
Nick kisses him again, quickly. "I know. I love you too."
A thought comes to mind. "But I believe I was promised the full, uncondensed version of the proposal."
Nick blushes and looks away. "You were."
"Well, I'm waiting."
"You don't really want to hear it."
"I don't want to make you confess your love to me in extended form so I can watch you squirm and blush? I think that's exactly what I want."
Nick blushes harder at that, still not looking at him. "Okay. Fine. I... I practiced this a bit, in my head, but it's not like memorizing terms or diagnoses or..."
"And now you're stalling."
"Um. Okay. Just... it might not be good. So I..." He rolls off of Carlos onto his side, placing one hand on his chest, and takes a deep breath. Carlos places his hand on top of his. "The first time I heard your name, Adam was waxing rhapsodic about his roommate. About how this Carlos was thoughtful, and caring, and affectionate, and how he couldn't imagine his life without him. And I thought he was absolutely full of bullshit."
Carlos snorts, despite himself. "Sorry!"
Nick turns his hand, intertwining their fingers, smiling now. "I thought he was just blinded by love. But then I met you, and one of the first things you did for me was to stop what you were doing, and make space for us, and offer to make me dinner."
Carlos does remember that. He remembers the first handshake, too, and how confident yet gentle it had been, and the fact that he remembers makes him wonder if, all along, he'd known where the two of them would end up.
"And in the weeks that followed, I saw how you cared for Adam. Not just in the big ways, but all of the little ones too. And I thought to myself how lucky Adam was to have a boyfriend like that. Who cared about him like that. And I wished that, one day, I could find someone like you, too."
A tear runs down Carlos' cheek despite himself. He has so many things he wants to say, but even if he was okay interrupting, he isn't sure he can get the words out right now.
"But then I realized... you were doing that for me. You were doing that for me, too. You would have had every right to be jealous, or to kick me out, especially after I found out what an idiot I had been, and that the two of you weren't actually a thing. But instead, you embraced me with open arms, because you were thoughtful, and caring, and affectionate."
He pauses, as if trying to remember the next words. Carlos hastily wipes his eyes, and squeezes his hand tighter.
"Um. When you said you had an ex-boyfriend, I couldn't concentrate for the rest of the night. I left, and then made excuses to stay away from you. I was terrified, because before that, I had never felt that kind of... longing for someone before."
"Dude..." He can't keep quiet anymore, turning and grabbing Nick and pulling him in for a kiss.
They break, and Nick smiles against his lips. "Um. But anyway, we got through it, and you became my boyfriend, and I realized that, before you, I had never known how much I could love someone. How much I would count down the days, the hours, every time were were apart. How much it could make me happy just to see you smile. How much you made me and make me a better man, every day. How much I always wanted to give you back even a fraction of that love and support that you gave to me."
"You do. Nick, you do." Carlos is starting to cry again.
"So in the end, I realized that Adam was right. I finally understood what he meant, because I realized I couldn't imagine my life without you, either. So I hope that you'll continue to make me the happiest man alive, every day of my life, by agreeing to marry me."
The tears are falling freely now, but he doesn't even care. "Baby..."
Nick smiles at him, gently wiping Carlos' tears away. Then he chuckles, nervously. "That was a lot shorter in my head. I'm, um... really glad I just did the ultra-abbreviated version."
"Shut up and kiss me."
He does, and it's long and slow and gentle, and a while before they break, holding each other again, facing each other this time.
"Really, though. That would have been excessively long." Nick's eyes are half-lidded, but still affectionate.
Carlos laughs at that. "I didn't notice."
"Maybe you're just blinded by love, then." Nick smirks, and Carlos always loves that expression.
"Maybe." He smiles, then stops, a thought springing to mind. "What... what would you have done if you and Adam hadn't gotten into the same place? And if I had chosen to go with him?"
Nick looks genuinely puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Would you have... broken up with me?"
Nick's staring at him now with utter disbelief. "Babe. Did you not hear a single thing I just said?"
"It would have sucked, sure. I'd have done everything I could to make it work, somehow. But I would have... understood, if you couldn't. Or didn't want to."
Carlos thinks for a moment, realizing that for the past few years, his vision of the future has always had Nick in it, even when he thought they might have to be apart for a while. He shakes his head. "No. We would have made it work. Somehow."
Nick's smiling again. "Yeah."
"Would you still have proposed?"
Nick bites his lip. "I... don't know. Maybe after you decided? After I was sure it was too late for you to change your plans. I still wouldn't want that to influence you in any way."
This shouldn't be a surprise given the earlier conversation, but it's still too much for him. "Dude. How are you so... perfect?"
"I ask myself that every day." He smiles, then seems to frown. "Um. About you, that is. I'm not that full of myself. I promise."
Carlos laughs at that, and then Nick is smiling again. "But we don't have to worry about that 'what if'."
Nick shakes his head. "No. We don't."
"But uh... I can think of some ways you could continue to make me the happiest man alive, right now."
Nick smirks, but his eyes are filled with passion. "Again, already? Insatiable, aren't we?"
Carlos smiles and closes the distance between them again. And as they find each other, and lose themselves in each other, every touch and every kiss feels like a promise of forever that Carlos knows he'll keep.